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Ethanol: Following the E10 to E15 Debate

The ethanol industry was patiently waiting for the EPA to approve an increase from 10 percent ethanol blends to 15 percent in gasoline. They are still waiting, but no longer patiently.

Numerous groups have voiced their opinion to keep the blend wall at 10 percent, or at least not to approve the increase until further testing is done. Despite the fact that the opposition comes from organizations such as the National Council of Chain Restaurants (this one is admittedly confusing), the Engine Manufacturers Association, and the Motorcycle Industry Association, the domestic ethanol industry is convinced this is an enormous big-oil conspiracy to keep the ethanol industry from succeeding. Did they just finish watching JFK?

From the reading I’ve done, it looks like 15 percent blends of ethanol aren’t going to have any negative effects on newer car engines -- and EPA statements have hinted that the industry will get their 5 percent increase this year. But there is evidence that it can cause harm in non-automobile engines -- like outboard engines used in boating, which explains why ESPN ran an article covering the issue.

Why is this confusing the ethanol industry? As the ESPN article says:

The lack of general public understanding of the differences between E10 and E15 increases the risk that boaters may misfuel their engines once E15 becomes readily available at gas stations.

The average citizen has no idea what E10 or E15 or E85 are. They might buy E15 rather than E10 and use it, potentially damaging very expensive equipment.

The underlying issue here is that the Renewable Fuel Standard is mandating huge blends of ethanol into our fuel supply, but the EPA isn’t permitting a high enough blend that will allow the mandate to be met. This highlights the absurdity of government energy policy. One government organization mandates a policy and another government organization sets policy making the original initiative impossible to obtain. This is one of the many reasons why consumers, not governments, should decide what they want going into their fuel.

And yes, the oil companies oppose the increase -- as they should. They have absolutely nothing to gain from this, and will lose money as each gallon of gasoline sold now contains less refined oil and more ethanol. To some, it is downright shocking that a company would oppose policies that would have the direct effect of making their industry less profitable.